It is part of Wisconsin Youth Company’s mission to include and welcome children, families, and staff from all backgrounds in its work. The organization’s mission statement is to engage youth in opportunities that encourage them to be their best selves. By creating safe, welcoming spaces, all can feel comfortable knowing their differences and similarities are celebrated.
Here are 3 key ways Wisconsin Youth Company creates an environment where all children, families, and staff feel safe and supported:
1. Language: If you step into an After School program, you’ll probably hear a staff person refer to a child as “friend” or a group of children as “friends.” Staff intentionally use gender-neutral terms like this to get the attention of a child or group. This language shows respect for children and supports them in being their true selves
Each child has their own unique family structure; there is no one way to be a family. Staff take the time to learn about each child’s family, and refer to those family members in the way the child has described them. Sometimes this is mom and dad. Other times it is grandparents, moms, dads or other special people in the child’s life. As we get to know families, staff might ask questions like “Who is your adult?” or “Who is your grownup?”
2. Groupings: Staff gather children in gender-neutral groups. Children are divided by age, grade, or even interests. In many programs, children help name their group. Some of our favorite group names are: Little Sharks, Cheetahs, and Astronauts.
3. Books and Toys: Representation matters. We recognize the importance of a child looking at a book or playing with a doll and thinking, “That person reminds me of me!” Here are some of our favorite books that were added to many of our After School programs this past year:
- Different—A Great Thing to Be! by Heather Avis
- It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn
- Jacob’s New Dress by Ian Hoffman and Sarah Hoffman
- Smile by Raina Telgemeier
- The Boy with Big, Big Feelings by Britney Winn Lee
- The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman
- Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Simply providing childcare for after school hours or during the summer is not enough. It is imperative that program spaces provide positive, supportive, kind environments for all those who walk through the doors.